By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
In the fourth Gospel and in his letters the beloved disciple, Saint John, returns repeatedly to his bold proclamation that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3,15) As in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke the Lord’s death on the Cross is the fulfillment of this eternal love where Saint John portrays the blood and water flowing from the side of the crucified beloved Son of God. These sacred streams became the dual fountains of new life in the Church in the saving waters of Baptism and in the new covenant of his blood each time the Mass is offered and celebrated.
In his document, Christus Vivit, to young people and to the entire people of God, fresh off on the press on March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, Pope Francis boldly proclaims that because God so loved the world, “Jesus Christ is alive, and he wants you to be alive! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way he brings youth to our world, and everything he touches becomes young, new and full of life.” On each sacred occasion when we celebrate the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist during the Easter season which began on Easter Sunday and will culminate at Pentecost 50 days later, the Lord Jesus goes about his saving work of making the world young, new and full of life. On the second and third Sundays of this Easter season we proclaimed the resurrection appearances from Saint John that reveal the personal and universal plan of salvation. In the creation story of Genesis God formed man and woman from the earth’s elements and breathed into them the breath of life, and we became living beings. (Genesis Ch. 2)
To the apostles huddled in fear, (J0hn 20,19ff) the risen Lord bathed them in peace and breathed upon them the creative and reconciling love of the Holy Spirit. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” In particular the Lord encountered Thomas, broken in spirit and overwhelmed by doubts that had broken the back of his faith. Jesus restored him to life through the touch of his wounds and the sound of his voice.
In last Sunday’s Gospel Jesus appeared to several of the Apostles at the sea of Galilee who had returned to their former lives after the crucifixion, among whom were Peter, Thomas and John. Jesus was waiting for them at the shore after guiding them to another successful catch that could barely be contained – 153 in all. This number represents God’s universal plan to bring the Gospel to all the known nations of that time. From the universal to the personal, now it was Peter’s turn to be reconciled and restored. (John 21,1ff) As they gathered around the fire for breakfast, the memory of the fire in the courtyard had to be weighing on Peter when he vehemently denied that he knew his Savior. Then, it was night. Jesus had gazed at Peter in that moment and remembering the Lord’s prediction at the Last Supper, Peter went out and wept bitterly.
But now it is the dawning of a new day, and with the fire between them for a second time, Jesus gazed on Peter with the warmth of his love and asked three times, “do you love me?” There was no reproach in the words and tone of Jesus to Peter, to Thomas or to any of his apostles for their behavior during the time of his suffering and death, but rather a deep desire to restore them to life in his name in order to launch the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The rest is history.
Peter fulfilled his destiny as the leader of the early Church, and Thomas brought the Good News to the realm of India. God so loves the world that this eternal question is directed to each of us who disciples of his beloved son are. Do we love him? In Christus Vivit Pope Francis quotes the poetic words of Pedro Arrupe, the legendary Jesuit Superior. “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.” This love for God is possible thanks to the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.
Writing nearly three generations after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Saint John ends his gospel with words of enduring love, hope and light for all people for all time. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you might come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” (John 20, 30-31).
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz